Two years ago yesterday, I did something I promised myself I would never do: I married a farmer.
I've never in my life made a better decision.
Jacob and I married in front of an historic red barn, with our friends and family surrounding us. The leaves on the cottonwoods were just turning and the air had that unmistakable fall crisp to it. The food came from Jacob's first farming experiment in Big Sandy and the flowers from my first large cut flower garden. It was the beginning of so many things for us.
After we were married, I took a short sabbatical and moved into the single-wide trailer house (the "Invader" model) that Jacob was renting on the bald prairie near Big Sandy.
Words can't describe the smell in that place. Old skunk, mothballs and shag carpet is as close as I can come. Oh, and add cheap wood paneling and yellow bathtubs, if you could smell those too.
It was the second year Jacob had lived in the trailer and I'd become used to him coming home on weekends with a bag full of clothes that smelled like the Big Sandy trailer. We had a rule: bring bag in, dump contents into washer, leave bag outside.
The smell was so pungent, so unique that became it's very own scent, as in, I found myself saying about other things: "this smells like the Big Sandy trailer."
A few days after the wedding, while I packed up my things in Missoula, Jacob went ahead to clean up the place for his new bride.
When I arrived, he carried me across the threshold. I held my breath.
His efforts were valiant. The place smelled like bad air fresheners in flavors like "light cotton breeze" or "cinnamon splendor" -- but he'd effectively cleared out most of the skunk smell, for now at least.
We made dinner and watched the magnificent sunset and I woke up happy in the makeshift bed we'd pulled together with a futon mattress and an piece of plywood. Jacob was in the kitchen making coffee and Lydia, our blue heeler, was snuggled up with me.
In a sleepy haze, I heard some scratching and commotion under the house, but didn't think anything of it, until Lydia started barking. That brought up more scratching and commotion.
Then, the smell enveloped us.
If you've ever smelled fresh skunk spray -- like the kind the comes at you from the space under your trailer house, through only a thin floor and a futon mattress -- you know that nothing, and I mean nothing, can compare.
I jumped up and told Jacob there must be a gas leak and we had to get out now. Then, we realized it was fresh skunk spray -- just as toxic smelling as leaking gas. Jacob started scrambling to close all the heater vents on the floor and I started throwing our bedding and clothes outside in a pile, where they would at least be safe from that initial spray.
We both coughed and choked as we tried to get dressed and get coffee to get over to the farm Jacob was working on. We opened all the windows and hoped when we came home that evening, maybe some of it would have cleared out.
We spent the day in the field, harvesting wheat trials and checking on Jacob's dryland vegetable crops. Then, we came home.
No luck on the airing out. We weren't choking, but the smell was back -- and bad.
But, there was work to be done and no where else to live that far out in the prairie. So, we did the best we could. I bought more "fresh cotton breeze" and cleaned and cooked and slowly, the smell subsided and went about our work.
The days in the field were long and sunburned, dusty and hot.
We were always dirty and my hands were developing callouses again. We were totally isolated and I wasn't working on my work. All of these are ingredients, I thought, for total depression. In fact, that winter I'd refused to move with Jacob full-time for the summer out of just that fear.
But as it turned out, I had never been happier than I was in that single-wide. Jacob and I worked side by side in the hot field, talking about everything, interesting and not, and when we got home, we ate fresh salsa and chips and sat out on the few pieces of wood that made up an overgrown porch and listened to the fall bugs buzz in anticipation of the coming sunset.
We sat in the paneled kitchen and sketched blueprints for our dream house and for our root cellar and for our perfect turkey processing facility. We talked about our kids growing up on a farm, how important local agriculture could be in revitalizing rural communities and what a food revolution could do for Central Montana.
About a week after I arrived in Big Sandy, we got a phone call from a friend who said she may have found us a place of our own. A few days later, we were in David's kitchen working out the lease on his 260-acre place near Conrad -- the farm we're on now.
As some of you know, I didn't go lightly into this farming thing. Neither did Jacob, but what I mean to say is that having grown up on a farm -- a farm that failed -- I brought baggage, serious baggage, to the decision. And, I wasn't really sold on the idea even when we got married.
Until, that is, those hot days in a wood-paneled, single-wide trailer shared with a family of skunks.
It made me realize that I didn't need all these things I thought I needed to be happy. I could be isolated and working like a dog, smelling like mothballs and skunks and peeling skin off my hands and be utterly blissful.
All I really needed to be happy was this amazing man I'd been smart enough to marry. With him by my side, we could take on anything, and be inspired while doing it.
Later that summer, the farmer were were working for told us that for about a week after our first night in the trailer together, both of us left a trail of skunk smell where ever we went.
We never noticed.
Perhaps that is was marriage is all about.